Course applications open for Food Recovery for Rhode Island

URI program aims to rescue and recycle food by changing the way Rhode Islanders interact with it

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 9, 2024 – The typical Rhode Islander’s food journey looks like this: shop, store, prepare, discard. Maybe, if they have the skills or know-how, a local consumer might preserve and/or compost their food.

The Food Recovery for Rhode Island course offered annually at the University of Rhode Island hopes to change the typical food-to-landfill pipeline, for the good of consumers’ health, finances and the environment.

Course applications opened this month for the six-week program offered by URI’s Cooperative Extension, open to any Rhode Islander.

Program attendees like Colleen Kenyon, in partnership with Hope’s Harvest, glean food from local farms for donation to area food pantries.

Vanessa Venturini is leading the program to connect interested community members with organizations having a local impact. The Food Recovery program offers community-scale solutions to tackle food waste and access issues: “The solutions come from within the communities themselves,” noting that 70,000 tons of wasted food enter the landfill in Johnston each year, while one-third of state residents experience food insecurity.

The program includes online coursework and in-person field experiences on evenings and weekends. Attendees use what they learn to make changes in their kitchens, yards and schools, and to effect change locally.

Graduates are using the program to make changes in their local communities, including Kendra Gay, of Lincoln, who is now working as a facilitator to help Rhode Island schools establish their own food recovery and composting programs.

Gay came to the program in 2023 as a volunteer at the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry in Cumberland, which feeds more than 600 families each month, so she was well aware of issues of hunger and food insecurity in the state.

The course segment on waste in schools immediately captured her attention. Gay was surprised how easy it is to reduce food waste in school cafeterias, using a simple system taught by the Rhode Island School Recycling Project (RISRP), which drastically eliminates food waste from the landfill. At Garvin Elementary in Cumberland, for instance, the approach reduced their trash from six bags to just one each day. The Spaziano School in Providence went from 14 bags of trash per day to two.

“It’s brilliant, easy and instantaneous. I asked, ‘Why isn’t everyone doing this?’” she said.

“On day one of launching this system, school administration, custodians, students, food service workers and everyone else involved are amazed at how quickly their trash decreases.”

Gay was joined in the class by Robyn Riley Perry in the University’s nutrition department, who teaches foodservice management at URI and is interested in starting a composting program at a local summer camp she’s involved with.

“The program was phenomenal,” she said. “The field trips were educational, interesting and given by dedicated professionals eager to educate us. We learned so much from our sites, topics covered, and from one another. I was inspired and want to learn more about decreasing food waste, food recovery, composting and sustainable practices to benefit the environment. It is so important.”

This program, now in its fourth year, appeals to attendees interested in food, the environment, community problem solving, and fun food facts.

New this year, attendees can choose one of three tracks to participate in: kitchen, composting, or schools.

“It’s been impressive to see how people take this information and put it to use,” said Venturini, who says the program also draws professionals from food service, nonprofits, and government agencies. “Different professionals can also use this program to network and form connections. Some young professionals are signing up for it as a resume builder and a way to meet people if new to the area.”

Lou Vinagro III, of Full Circle Recycling in Johnston, signed up to learn and grow as a business owner working in the industry. Vinagro joined the class after volunteering in his community with the Foster Conservation Commission and the Rhode Island Farm Bureau. He sees environmental impact up close in his work and welcomed the chance to examine these issues with others. Now he’s connected to a local school, Scituate Elementary, that’s providing food scraps for his pigs, instead of the landfill.

“I have a vision that all households in Rhode Island recycle their food waste in the future and that starts at the grassroots level,” he said. “I truly believe that we must practice and teach our children this since they are our future.”

Graduates of the program will leave with skills to preserve the harvest and make the most out of food they buy or grow, enjoying the outdoors in beautiful places through hands-on field experiences, joining in community projects to combat climate change and feed people, and meeting new people with similar interests.

“Rhode Island is well known for our food,” Venturini said. “Now we’re seeing people coming to the program to expand their experience here and learn how our local food system works.”

This year’s program takes place Sept. 28 through Oct. 30, and requires a commitment of 90 minutes of online learning and at least four 90-minute field experiences. The deadline to apply is Aug. 20. Participants will gain skills in canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing, composting, food preparation and storage, community engagement and more, and work with community partners such as Hope’s Harvest. Cost for the course and training materials is $250; financial awards are available.

Apply or learn more at or contact or (401) 874-2900. Follow at @foodrecoveryforri.